Here are the deeper cuts, art that makes you think and feel as well as remember. If you don’t believe Bazinga! The Novel is for you, one (or more) of these five things just might be.
Game & Watch illustration by John Pham.
Feed by MT Anderson
A YA novel about a romance set in a dystopian future where kids who suck, can’t think enjoy plugging in more than real life.
Feed is a novel about a group of teens on vacation. They try to go somewhere hyped and buy some fun, but “the moon turned out to completely suck” so they decide to do some hardware scrambling drugs instead. You know, kids. The protagonists of Feed live in an age where the net is hooked straight to your thoughts, and as a result, reality is different. In a world of instantly accessible knowledge, you don’t actually have to know anything. When something’s troubling you, you can just purchase the blues away. When you don’t have an answer, you look it up. The (obvious) problem is a total loss of context, of imagination, wisdom, empathy, the ability to think abstractly, the ability to think. Fair warning, the completely suck in Feed is the teens, and boy, do they. They have nothing outside the instant, and the empty instant is boring boring boring. They do shitty stuff and pay it no mind because they can’t concentrate. It’s book almost entirely comprised of antagonists and their selfish decisions will gut you. It’s a chilling, tragic story of future failures, essential reading but depressing as it gets. Couldn’t recommend it more.
Finder: Dream Sequence by Carla Speed McNeil
A comic about a virtual reality world everyone would prefer to be in, except the person whose head it is in, because they can never go to sleep.
The most popular MMORPG exists inside the head of a oddball creative type. You have no idea what kind of things normal folks will give up or go through to get the nicest HD equipment, to experience the virtual world at the best refresh rates and highest resolution. Or maybe you would. It is, to say the least, dystopian, but also chillingly plausible. There’s psychological thrills, body horror, social commentary, and, as many of Carla Speed McNeil’s comics end up touching on, there’s musing on creativity. World building as a mixed amalgamation of the imagination of the creator and the scads of other sources/experiences that inspire and are internalized. Is the game original, or is it a grand ripoff? Whatever it is, it’s selling. Big but: the mind this multibillion dollar enterprise resides in can never rest, and the lack of sleep (maybe) is letting some pretty scary creatures get mixed into the fun. Rip a persona to shreds and the mind it is linked to gets remixed as well. That means legal troubles for the corporation. That means autonomy problems for its host. Part of a stunning series but able to be consumed as a stand alone read.
The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
A book that isn’t really a book, just lists and lists and lists of stuff but funny because it is thoughtful satire and not only a franchise checklist.
So you want to read lists of things that make you laugh, eh? Try a Hodgman on for size, then. Learn about furry lobsters that resemble otters and the sordid history that lead to the old lobsters’ extinction. Learn hobo names. Learn prescient facts. Learn food. Learn all kinds of things, lists of things, plus charts, figures, other info-graphics. A thoroughly listy read that will have you smiling all over the place or utterly disinterested. Hodgman was a Daily Show correspondent, an interstitial writer and character on a couple of They Might Be Giants projects, and writes for McSweeney’s and This American Life. Areas is highbrow absurd, heavy on the McSweeney’s vibe.
3" Hodgman by Emma Dawn Allain.
1-Up MegaZine by Raina Lee
A fanzine of stories, comics, graphics, and ephemera, all to do with video games, by a murderers’ row of indie talent, written from the heart.
The finest underground publication about video games there ever was. Personal anecdotes about gaming on every conceivable platform. Comics and fan art. Random reviews and interviews. Not terribly easy to track down but so worth your time. Sometimes the stories are important, sometimes totally personal, sometimes both. Being a lady in a dude gamer world. Arcade etiquette. Tetris and illness. Pac Man and moms. America’s Army and the human psyche. Interviews with the Minibosses, Billy Mitchell, Bis. Street Fighter. Animal Crossing. Tons and tons of rando reviews. 3-D glasses and collectors cards and offset printing and a million other reasons to dive in with both feet. As the best zines do, it gives you what millennials will recognize as the podcast feel. A discussion with someone who understands your interests better than you could’ve expected, talking about what makes your soul sing, only it’s not a conversation because it already happened without you there. A masterclass in graphic design on top of everything else. An absolutely perfect video game nostalgia trip. Only three issues, but still, legendary.
Ghosts With Shit Jobs by Jim Munroe
A movie about a future where economic collapse has caused the dangerous, crappy tech jobs China won’t do to be outsourced to third-world North America.
Shoestring budgest sci-fi. A handful of professions that are eerily familiar but put on fast forward. The guy who paints out ads in virtual reality. The lady who mentions brands to make money. The couple that refurb babies. Hardware material scavengers. The emotional toll that doing something you hate in the field you love takes. What could just be vignettes all come together for a swirling, semi-devastating conclusion. Half of the execution is campy, but the other half is surprisingly on point and actually quite stirring. Yes a story after the collapse. Not about those on top. Not about those totally destroyed. It’s about us in the middle, weathering it, struggling with existential suffering, sure, but surviving. Some folks are unhappy but climbing. Some are just dying. A mundane dystopia. Funny. Tragic. Unlikely. Likely. Unique.